American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

September 2012

Seeing the Civil War—ASHP/CML Hosts an NEH Summer Institute

Institute faculty member David Jaffee discusses a Civil War print
Institute faculty member David Jaffee discusses a Civil War print with NEH summer scholars.

During two weeks last July, the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning hosted a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on “The Visual Culture of the American Civil War” at the CUNY Graduate Center and cultural institutions in the New York area. Attended by thirty NEH Summer Scholars from colleges and universities across the country, the institute featured presentations, discussions, visits to local archives and museums, and hands-on workshops that focused on the era’s visual media to assess how information and opinion about the war were recorded and disseminated, and to consider ways visual media expressed and shaped Americans’ understanding on both sides of the conflict.

NEH summer scholars and faculty at the New-York Historical Society
NEH summer scholars and faculty at the New-York Historical Society.

The institute featured talks by seventeen noted historians, art historians, and archivists representing the range of current work in the field. The topics included Civil War photography and images of African Americans, the illustrated press, political cartoons, Emancipation and prints, the paintings of Winslow Homer, scrapbooks, and public monuments (the full schedule of activities and speakers is available here). Building on the information and resources discussed and viewed at the institute, the participants also worked independently on their own research and teaching projects utilizing visual evidence to enhance understanding of the history of the war.

Thanks to a supplementary NEH grant, many of the institute’s resources and activities will be available online in a special section of our Picturing U.S. History website. The Visual Culture of the American Civil War site will feature the institute’s illustrated lectures, complemented by contextual presentations, and related picture galleries, primary documents, bibliographies, and webographies. Watch for the announcement of the launching of this site later this fall on the ASHP/CML website.

Bringing Our Professional Development Online

ASHP/CML is pleased to announce its role as a subgrantee on Zoom In, a new online professional development project being undertaken by our longtime evaluation partner Education Development Center (EDC) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We will work with EDC to create, test, and disseminate a suite of digital tools and resources for middle-school history education. Drawing on the professional development materials and approaches ASHP/CML has developed over the past two decades, the project will help teachers create document-rich inquiries in U.S. history, with explicit supports for building both historical content understanding and Common Core literacy skills among students. Zoom In will also include model historical inquiries that make innovative use of digital tools to help students read, write, and talk about compelling historical questions, grounded in evidence from textual and visual primary source materials.

Lots New at the New Media Lab

New Media Lab stations with new tablesBolstered by the recent installation of sleek new computer tables that replaced the old and eclectic assortment of furniture we’ve had until now (see right), the New Media Lab—the Graduate Center’s interdisciplinary digital facility run by ASHP/CML—began the fall semester with new participants and innovative initiatives. The Lab is busier than ever with 22 students from 13 doctoral programs working from early in the morning until late in the evening on digital projects.

This academic year, the Lab’s activities have been enhanced by the Graduate Center’s inauguration of a number of programs to nurture digital research. Three NML students were appointed Digital Fellows and two others received Digital Initiative grants from the Office of the Provost to support the development of scholarly projects that use new technology in compelling ways. In addition, a History and Public Health student grant was established with funds from an anonymous donor to support student digital projects and research related to these fields; two grants have been awarded thus far, one to a student in environmental psychology, the other, in anthropology. And a new grant to students will be announced shortly for digital work that accompanies doctoral dissertations. Finally, for a second year a student was designated as a Digital Fellow whose responsibilities include working with GC faculty members on their digital research projects.

Awards for Our Digital Projects

HERB: Social History for Every Classroom won a 2012 “Best of the Web” award from the Center for Digital Education. Named after our co-founder, the late distinguished historian Herbert Gutman, HERB is a free website that pulls together ASHP/CML’s most effective teaching activities, primary documents, and special collections into an accessible site for teachers and students. The award recognizes the site’s contribution to the benefit and quality of online education for students, teachers, and the community.

Our most recent interactive game for middle school students produced in collaboration with New York public television station Thirteen/WNET, Mission US 2: Flight to Freedom won a 2012 International Serious Play Gold Medal Award in the education division. Flight to Freedom, which tells the story of an enslaved teenager in the 1850s as she escapes north and confronts challenges presented by the Fugitive Slave Act, also has been receiving rave reviews from the press (such as this article in USA Today) as well as from teachers, and students.